I’d like to tell you a story about a journey. OK, it’s my journey. The story is about self-doubt, envy, leadership, and a growing business. It takes place within a community that meets annually like friends at a Homecoming assembly where we are all slowly and subtly outgrowing the bleachers. Here’s how it starts:
In 2011 a friend of a friend found a flyer for an “inside sales professionals” conference by AA-ISP. I had just started a sales training business in this niche – often still called telesales – and the flyer made its way to me. It felt weird at the time to think, “this is something big,” because the community was small and my company (and my confidence) was smaller. I knew I needed to investigate.
My 8-month pregnant belly and I decided the national conference was out and we drove to Scottsdale for a local show (I pulled over to pee three times on the 40-minute journey). Seeing Trish Bertuzzi and Steve Richard on stage filled me with actual awe. They were my first role models. That year the association co-founder’s wife made my newborn a personalized bib. I volunteered to co-chair the Phoenix chapter.
Soon I was being regularly rocked into the soothing comfort of the AA-ISP community’s embrace. I found people with similar backgrounds, temperaments and struggles. It was like discovering and then moving to an island of my people. We spoke the same language and we all fought the evil face-to-face-sellers threatening our legitimacy with words like “field support” and “team selling.” In 2013, I made it to the National conference and was surprised to learn I’d won a Spirit Award for helping the community (I was in the bathroom at the time of the award. Go figure.).
By 2014, however, my peaceful island was being threatened – and by my own creeping jealousy. Did I mention that the story’s protagonist and antagonist are both me? I envied the success and notoriety of the main-stage speakers and authors at the conference. And of course about 20 seconds after the idea occurred to me I should be that, I was disappointed with myself for not having already achieved it. The go-getters and the self-doubters, the perfectionists and the over-achievers out there? You get me. You, too, are my people.
For the first time since becoming an entrepreneur, I felt seriously not good enough. I wanted to be a big company that people knew, I wanted to have written the book, I craved the respect for those big vendors who brought home industry awards.
Year one I was honored by my invitation to the island. By year three I wanted to rule it.
Cut to present day. Last week Factor 8 brought home the Industry Award for best training vendor for the FIFTH straight year. Eleven of us went up on stage, and I hugged each one on their way down like they’d won the Oscar. It probably seemed excessive to some. It felt amazing to me.
During my main-stage presentation, we taught our peers about the dangers of under-developing their teams, industry best practices, and a few skills they could take home and use right away. I stole 2 minutes to thank the community for their support of a passion project I launched on that very stage a year before called #GirlsClub. Closing the gender gap in sales and sales leadership wasn’t my vision, I’m just the one who got sick of talking about it and decided to act. One year after saying I would try to solve it, we are graduating our first generation of fifty women from companies all across the Globe, many of whom have already been promoted.
After the presentation (of which I remember about 20 seconds) there was another announcement. AA-ISP Founder Bob Perkins announced that our latest baby had been selected by the Board to help our community solve the development deficit for reps and managers. The Sales Bar would be made available through AA-ISP at a special rate for members, and my life’s work would be seen by thousands . I tried to say something about being honored (and possibly a lame bar pun).
We were inundated by hundreds of Leaders asking to see it, how it worked, and what it cost. Six months ago I was afraid my vision to make training feel like Netflix was stupid. There’s nothing like watching crowds of people love your life’s work. They thanked for making it available and for my vision. I tried to stay calm and wondered if they’d seen Steve Richard anywhere.
The pride I felt watching the Factor 8 team hustle to accommodate demo and meeting requests felt better than hearing my actual babies’ first words (but really, “Vroom Daddy?” Sorry. Not as good.)
I was being admired by strangers who said things like, “Honor” and “Followed you for years,” and “Thank you for what you do for the community.” I watched 4 of my team members speak on various stages this year and two adorable new-employee millennials take in their first conference and thrive.
And as we stood around the bar table (oh hell yeah!) and shared our day’s highlights, several of us were moved to tears. And it hit me like a ton of bricks just how amazing this Universe is. Little Lauren wanted to be big, to be recognized, to feel important. Each year I got closer but the finish line seemed to move also. This year it happened. But for so much better reasons than I thought I wanted.
You see, last year I changed directions. I stopped chasing the validation and turned around to instead give it to others. I wasn’t trying to build something great, just something helpful. We focused more on empowering others and giving back by making excellence available to more people and helping all of us feel more successful at work. And instead of trying to sound smart when interviewed, I got vulnerable and shared my own lack of self-confidence and the importance of helping build it in others (especially women in sales leadership).
It felt different being at my 8th conference. Not just because it got bigger, but because I did.